Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.
Infographic: Underwater noise
Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet. Until recently, the Arctic Ocean was a natural “acoustic refuge” for marine animals because it was covered in thick ice for much of the year.Read more
- scientific name
2.6 to 4.5 m
Least concern (IUCN)
Threats to belugas
Where do belugas live?
Most populations of beluga migrate. In autumn, they move south as the ice forms in the Arctic. In spring, they return to their northern feeding areas when the ice breaks up In summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river. One beluga in Alaska was spotted 1000km inland, swimming up the Yukon River. However, a few populations do not follow this migratory pattern, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.
What do belugas eat?
Salmon, capelin, herring, shrimp, arctic cod, flounder, crabs and molluscs. They feed in open water (pelagic) and bottom (benthic) habitats, in both shallow and deepwater areas. Belugas have been recorded diving to more than 350 metres to feed.
How long do belugas live?
Tooth sectioning studies show that beluga whales typically live 30 to 35 years. Belugas can become trapped by freezing ice and starve or suffocate. Polar bears hunt belugas, especially if the whale is trapped in a small "lead" or open water.
How do belugas communicate?
Their bulbous forehead, called a "melon", is flexible and capable of changing shape. This allows them to make different facial expressions and produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which give the beluga its other name, "the canary of the sea." These songs are probably used to communicate with other beluga and to help them find food through echolocation.
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This predominantly Arctic species is associated with ice floes. Its movement patterns are therefore influenced by the melting and freezing of the ice. The bowhead has suffered from severe over-exploitation that has seen its range shrink considerably since the 17th century.
The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk which spirals counter-clockwise several feet forward from its upper lip. The tusk is actually the whale's upper left canine tooth. Male narwhals commonly have a single tusk, but they sometimes have two tusks, or none at all. Around 15% of females have a tusk.